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I watched 'Naval Legends: Yamato' yesterday, and it included a phrase that was attributed to the crew of the ship:

"The world's three most useless things are the Chinese Great Wall, Egyptian pyramids, and the Japanese Yamato."

What is the original source for this?

I started searching and noted various repetitions of quotation:

  • A NYT article from 1995 attributing it to "the crew";
  • This website attributing it to "the Japanese Navy";
  • Another web attribution to "the crew";
  • This website quotes Vladimir Kofman attributing it to "military experts of the Imperial Japanese Navy".

Admittedly, "crew", "military experts of the Navy", and "the Navy" aren't mutually exclusive, but none of these refer to any original Japanese sources.

Meanwhile, looking into what the Yamato meant in Imperial Japan, it would be contradictory of the crew to suggest the ship that was the representation of their state was useless though this doesn't make it impossible. Similarly, it would be very harsh criticism coming from an IJN "military expert", especially given how much emphasis was given to psychological warfare and propaganda by the Kempeitai and Tokkeitai, so this sounds a bit unlikely but again it isn't impossible.

Thanks to @kimchilover, I found this mention as well which is more helpful but again without a direct source. However, this is a lot more plausible (which is that the source of this was a single Japanese officer and is related specifically to naval aviation vs battleships):

A famous story is told of a brawl in the Yamato's wardroom triggered by a casual remark made by a young officer—most likely a proponent of air power—to the effect that there were three totally useless big things in the world: namely, Egyptian Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, and the Battleship Yamato. 'Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute - Volume 105 - Page 86'

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    Google books tossed up these citations: Proceedings of the US Naval Institute, 1953, vol 79, part 1, page 142, and Japan Quarterly, 1975, v22, p.65. Alas, I can't find the text online. Jul 24, 2020 at 13:20
  • A second go-round with google books gave this garbled quote from USNIP, 1953, p. 142: AFTER the pyramids of Egypt and the destruction of documents relating to YamatoGreat Wall of China were the three class ships and ... The pre - surrender burning of the Imyet like the lofty pyramids and the long wall , perial Naval Technical Bureau ( Kampon ) great follies indeed . ... In many instances , however , Musashi , together with the huge aircraft blanks remained , to be filled in only graducarrier ... Jul 25, 2020 at 15:38
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    If it is a true contemporary remark, the original source might be in Mitsuru Yoshida's memoir "Requiem for Battleship Yamato", published in Japan within a year or two of the war ending. Unfortunately I cannot get access to an English translation at this time. This page cites a Pacific War Research Society report entitled "Senkan Yamato no 100 nazo (100 mysteries of Battleship Yamato)" for it. Dec 17, 2020 at 17:47
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    @totalMongot: That begs the question, were ANY battleships really useful in WW2, especially in the Pacific? Per Wikipedia, " By the end of the war, battleship construction was all but halted, and almost every remaining battleship was retired or scrapped within a few years of its end." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battleships_in_World_War_II
    – jamesqf
    Nov 24, 2021 at 18:28
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    @jamesqf - I can only think of one battle really, the Battle of Surigao straits, where battleships were definitely useful there. But also they were quite useful for the marines with shore bombardment, even if the bombardment wasnt effective i have read how it was a major pyschological boost. Also some of the fast battleships did provide good AA platforms to protect carriers.
    – ed.hank
    Nov 25, 2021 at 17:11

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I checked the Japanese text, which is as follows:

世界の三馬鹿「ピラミッド・万里の長城・戦艦大和」

I can confirm that this is mentioned in many histories of WW2 as a joke which was whispered between Navy staff. One notable source that comes up on Google Books is a 1965 biography of Yamamoto Isoroku by Agawa Hiroyuki.

Because it originates as a joke, the point was to astonish and there was no explicit reasoning given. I suppose the intuition would be that it was a very expensive project which did not produce the desired result of victory in war. In the 1960s, the same joke was told but instead of the Yamato, the third example was the shinkansen, which kind of shows the mentality of the joke teller.

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